Life is simple

I went to the 10:30 Service on New Years Day at St Peters in Surry Hills, after attending the Lord Mayor’s party at the Sydney Opera House the evening before. The church was cool and the service quiet. I was suddenly struck by the enduring simplicity of what takes place every Sunday at St Peters, and the contrast with the complexity of the world I bring with me into that small peaceful church every week.

What is simplicity?

My definition of simplicity would be “What you see is what is there.” No hidden agendas; no misleading messages. That may puzzle you. If a stranger were to attend the service at St Peters they might well be mystified about what was going on but the people who are there understand exactly what is happening. To them it is simple. I don’t mean that each person experiences exactly the same thing, or understands the theology the same but they all see exactly the same simple “what is there.” God is present.

What is complexity?

What do I bring with me to St Peters? The way I look at the world. I sometimes joke that the world has to be complicated for me because I am an engineer / physicist / management consultant. There wouldn’t be anything for me to do if the world were simple. I like to solve complicated puzzles so I like to see the world as complex so I can unravel it. My suspicion is that all of us have been shaped by our education and experience to see the world as complex, even though we aren’t engineers or scientists. The scientific “paradigm” is prevasive in the modern world. We see myriads of interrelationships and issues and assume that everything must be complex. We don’t leave any room for simplicity.

Advice from a recovering “complexity-olic”

As every recovering alcoholic knows, the advice from a brother or sister alcoholic carries more weight than advice from a sober person. I am a “complexity-olic” and I know how hard it is to see simplicity when everything appears to be so complicated. You have to admit to yourself that you can’t get out of the complexity trap on your own, and seek help. Until I was able to ask a “higher power” to help me, I was stuck in theological intricacy and religious issues. I couldn’t be in St Peters — or quietly sit in my home — and simply be present to God.  As a recovering complexity-olic, every day is still a struggle for me, but I take each day as it comes, opening my eyes to see the simple presence of God in the midst of life here in Sydney. My advice? Do what God suggests in Psalm 46:10 — “Be still, and know that I am God.”

4 Replies to “Life is simple”

  1. Jim’s thoughts brought to mind a conversation I once had. During the time I was in the clothing business I once discussed with a designer the making of a pair of denim jeans. Of all the garments out there you could best describe a pair of jeans as being one of the most simplistic. Yet it is in its complexity that a pair of jeans becomes different than another pair. It could be in the fabric chosen, the wash or finish, the kind of stitching, it’s particular fit, possible color, even its labeling. Thousands of garment designers have attempted to create their own unique pair by the complexity of the choices they have in designing a pair.
    Yet, when you purchase a pair of jeans, your reasoning is it’s the most simple, basic item of clothing you need for wherever you go, however you dress. Everyone has a favorite pair in their wardrobe.
    Someone once said “It is within the complexity of something that we find the simple solution”. My guess would be either Jim, Sherlock Holmes, or Albert Einstein. Knowing only one personally, I would think that all three are complexity-olics, but all have striven for the simplistic answer.

  2. There are two kinds of simplicity John — the one that Einstein sought and the one that I think eluded him. He believed that at its deepest level, the universe was simple, and translated that belief into ideas and equations that are incomprehensible to most of us. The simplicity that eluded him needs no translation and, in my experience, can’t be translated into ideas, language or equations. It just is.

  3. I agree that simplicity is the key. For some reason it seems very hard for us as humans to accept the simple truth that God loves us, and to be transformed by this truth to live lovingly in the world. Yet as I go along it seems to me that we make things far more difficult than they need to be. Living simply can be, in itself, an act of loving response to God.

    1. This is the dilemma of the rich versus the poor. The rich have many choices, which complicate their lives. The poor have few choices and must rely on others to survive. For the rich to live simply, it seems we must give up our choices and rely on others to survive. This certainly sounds strange and even wrong-headed to me. How, in practical terms, do I live simply? St Francis stripped off all his clothing and went naked away from his family and “support systems.” Perhaps that is my problem — trying to be St Francis. Maybe I should just be myself and find practical ways to begin the journey toward simplicity. Small, ordinary steps rather than trying to be saintly. Taking the small steps is more than enough challenge for me.

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